Ethiopia has denounced a "destructive alliance" unveiled this week between rebels from war-torn Tigray and a group from Oromia, the country's largest region
The Oromia group -- which calls itself the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) but which federal officials refer to as OLF-Shane -- went public with the purported alliance on Wednesday, saying "the agreement is at a very early stage".
"It is based on the mutual understanding that (Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's) dictatorship must be removed," spokesman Odaa Tarbii said.
"At this point, we share intel and coordinate strategy."
The Tigray rebels confirmed the news in a statement attributed to the government that ruled the northern region before the conflict broke out there nine months ago.
"The Tigray government announces that it has reached an agreement with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) to fight the destructive clique of fascist Abiy Ahmed, which is driving the country and the population into the abyss," said the statement posted online by the Tigray Mass Media Agency.
At a press conference Thursday, Abiy's spokeswoman Billene Seyoum noted that lawmakers had in May formally designated both the OLA and the TPLF terrorist organisations.
"This is not surprising for the federal government," Billene said of the reports that the two groups were joining forces.
"The government has been indicating for over two years now that the TPLF has been using Shane as errand runners for their destructive mission," she said.
The two groups have acknowledged they "are working in unison leading towards destructive activities against the stability of the nation and that terrorism is a general feature of both," she added.
The OLA, believed to number in the low thousands, broke off from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Abiy took office in 2018.
Abiy's government has blamed the OLA for a number of recent massacres targeting ethnic Amharas, the country's second-largest group, though the militants have denied responsibility.
'All means necessary'
Northern Ethiopia has been wracked by conflict since November when Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent troops to topple the TPLF.
He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
But while Abiy promised a swift victory, more than nine months later the TPLF has made advances into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, while aid workers struggle to reach cut-off populations, with 400,000 people facing famine-like conditions in Tigray, according to the UN.
The TPLF, which dominated national politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office, has said it is not seeking to reclaim power at the national level and is instead focused on "degrading" pro-government troops and trying to facilitate aid access to Tigray.
On Tuesday Abiy's office issued a statement calling for "all capable Ethiopians who are of age" to join the armed forces as the conflict escalates.
Billene said Thursday the message of the statement was that "the government and the people of Ethiopia together will deploy all means necessary to prevent the terrorist TPLF from spiralling the country into further instability".